Blackface photos fuel charges of racism at Charlotte nightclub

Qcitymetro.comNovember 11, 2013 

The owner of a Charlotte nightclub said two of his bartenders meant no harm when they dressed in blackface leading up to Halloween.

Pictures posted on Facebook show two men wearing dark facial makeup, red and pink wigs, and pink lipstick. The images drew outrage from some in the African-American community who viewed the costumes as racist. One photo showed Donald O’Shields, owner of Scorpio nightclub, posing with the two costumed men.

The incident happened just days after actress Julianne Hough faced criticism for her use of blackface in a Halloween costume. She later apologized via Twitter, saying she never meant to be “disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way.”

O’Shields said the bartenders at his club dressed up as cast members from the reality TV show “Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

“They regret it. They wouldn’t do it again,” he said. “I will make sure next year that does not happen. ... I was unaware people would take it that way.”

Brandon Lii, who said he no longer goes to Scorpio, said the allegations of racism are especially bad because AfricanAmericans make up a high percentage of the club’s clientele.

“If the African-American dollar is the one that is paying the bills, then I can’t understand why they would do something as disrespectful as this,” he said.

Michael Weir, who said he visited Scorpio while attending UNC Charlotte, said he was shocked to see the photos of the two men dressed in blackface. He said he’s friends with both men on Facebook.

O’Shields denied any bias against African-Americans or any other group. O’Shields said that over the years his club has donated thousands of dollars to a black gay pride organization in Charlotte. (Scorpio serves a mainly LGBT clientele.)

Blackface gained popularity in American theaters during the 19th century and added to a proliferation of racist stereotypes about blacks. White performers used burnt cork and later greasepaint or shoe polish to blacken their skin and exaggerate their lips. Decades later, black performers often could not find work unless they agreed to accept demeaning roles and dress in blackface.

O’Shields said he accepts the fact that his bartenders’ costumes were offensive, and he said he would make sure it never happened again.

“We’re here to entertain people and let people come out and have a good time,” O’Shields said.

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